At the end of their first group game in the AFC Cup, it was hardly imaginable that Global FC’s last match in the group stage will mean a lot as they were handed a 6-1 thumping by South China AA at the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium back in late February. Yet it was the case earlier tonight when the Philippine champions met their Malaysian counterparts 32 kilometers north of the vintage stadium where Global opened the tournament. The Philippine club knew that only a win will make them progress into the knockout rounds, something not far-fetched if their previous meeting in Kuantan is taken into account. A goalless stalemate it was, although Pahang evidently played more comfortably in the grounds they call home. In the reverse fixture, the same can be said with Global being the more familiar team despite playing only two games in the newly opened Philippine Sports Stadium, known as the biggest in the Philippines as far as seating capacity is concerned. Fittingly, it played host to the biggest game in the history of Philippine club football that ended the same way it did in Malaysia two months ago: A 0-0 scoreline which spelled the exit of the Philippines’ lone representative in AFC club football competitions.
The hosts were eager to find the back of the net as soon as possible and their first chance arrived in the opening two minutes of the match. Mark Hartmann threaded a pass to Misagh Bahadoran, who intended to swing his first touch to the running Dennis Villanueva. Unfortunately, Pahang goalkeeper Khairulazhan Bin Mohd Khalid read it well to prevent Bahadoran’s pass from getting to Villanueva. Five minutes later, another chance fell to Global. Hartmann picked up a misplaced pass inside the attacking third. With possession, the forward moved closer to the goal but he struck his shot wide to the left of the far post. A similar opportunity to score took place in the 13th minute, this time involving Bahadoran. The Global skipper stripped the ball away from Damion Stewart and went inside the box. On his way, Bahadoran had a good look at goal but Pahang captain Mohd Razman Bin Roslan timed his challenge well to deny the Fil-Iranian a shot that would have made it 1-0 for Global.
Overall, the visitors played defensively but it did not stop them from producing chances. After all, a goal for them would have required Global to score twice inside a gradually fading period. Pahang, however, were kept at bay by the disciplined Global backline. The nearest they got in the first 45 minutes was off a corner drilled in by Azammudin Bin Mohd Akil at the 21st minute, which created a couple perilous moments. To Global’s rescue were fullbacks Daisuke Sato and Jerry Barbaso who timely cleared the ball from danger.
Midway through the opening half, Global enjoyed most of the possession but were unable to crack past Pahang’s resolute defending. The closest the reigning United Football League champs got to scoring came at the 44th minute. Hartmann’s shot was saved by Azhan and Stewart just got to the ball before Villanueva got to poke the ball into an unguarded net. For what appeared to be a half filled with Global’s chances, it was nearly a period when Pahang nabbed a goal against the run of play. Villanueva fouled Matias Conti near the edge of the box in added time but the free kick taken by Hafiz Kamal sailed over Patrick Deyto’s goal. Halftime soon arrived with Pahang the happier of two teams as the score remained at 0-0.
After the interval, Pahang seemed to have altered their game plan. After doing well in frustrating Global defensively, the Malaysians appeared more determined moving forward. They finally tested the relatively idle Deyto at the 56th minute, but Azammudin’s shot was palmed away by the Philippine international. Prior to that, the team in yellow registered another shot attempt courtesy of Villanueva. The midfielder, having collected a well-targeted pass of Bahadoran from the byline, was stopped by Azhan inside the six-yard box just three minutes into the second half. The 23-year-old Filipino midfielder had another chance to give his team the lead at the hour mark. After Paolo Bugas’ cross was cleared by Stewart, Villanueva attempted a half-volley that flew just inches over the crossbar. In the final half-hour of the match, Pahang sought for the goal that they believe would have killed the match for good. Conti and Fauzi had a go but neither was clinical enough to find a way past Global’s prepared defense.
With time not on their side, Global became more desperate in their search for a breakthrough goal. Fourteen minutes before time, Hartmann penetrated from the left flank but there were no teammates of his to receive the low cross he sent from inside the box. In the final six minutes plus added time, Global bombarded Pahang with waves of shot attempts that were either too soft or off the mark. The most notable of all players who were keen to win the match for Global down the stretch was Richard Talaroc. He replaced center back Amani Aguinaldo and was deployed up front to boost Global’s chances of scoring. Registered as a fullback, the 20-year-old substitute was unfortunate not to convert any of his three good chances in added time. As soon as Azhan’s goal kick deep in stoppage time landed on the pitch, Chinese referee Tan Hai blew the final whistle that signalled the end of Global’s participation in the AFC Cup.
Leigh Manson, Global’s coach, felt immense pride with his players who played not only for Global FC but for the whole country as well. “I think if we’ve been sharper in front of goal, we would have gotten the result that we were all wanting,” he added, noting that Global played superbly but were unlucky not to get any goals out of their efforts. “They’ve shown they’re good enough to play at this level. Pahang are a very, very good team–to emphasize, top of the Malaysian Super League–and we’ve had two draws, home-and-away, and we should have won this one,” Manson assessed of his team. Wearing the armband, Bahadoran agreed with their Scottish mentor. “We had ball possession and everything else. It’s just that the finishing was not there. We had many chances in front of the 18-yard box but unfortunately we did not finish,” he said with a hint of melancholy.
Gracious in victory, Pahang Coach Zainal Abidin Bin Hassan praised his team’s opponents for giving Pahang a very tough time. “The pressure Global gave was too much and too high. Credit to Global who played wonderful football. It made us work harder and harder,” he commented with relief. After seeing out a tumultuous affair in the Philippines, Pahang will travel to Indonesia to face Persipura Jayapura in the round of 16–their prize as Group G’s second best team.
As the third-placed team, Global have bowed out of the competition. Their exit can be summed up as a reminder that the Philippines is not yet the best footballing country in Southeast Asia. The progress Dan Palami’s team made inside a short span of time though signifies how big football can be in the Philippines, and how the country can become a football powerhouse in the region. “We gave them a good game. Everyone saw that Global are capable of playing in the AFC Cup,” thought Bahadoran who sees football’s rapid rise in the country as one of the fastest in the world. For now, Global will settle for third but will surely look forward to the next edition they will be competing in, which they hope will be as soon as next year.
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